Greece has prohibited a Gaza-bound flotilla from embarking on its mission to breach Israel's naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory.
On Friday, the Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection issued a statement saying that ships flying Greek or foreign flags heading to Gaza would be prevented from setting sail.
In defiance of the ban and in spite of warnings from the U.S. government, an American ship, dubbed The Audacity of Hope, left a Greek port on Friday. The ship was intercepted by the Greek Coast and its captain, John Klusmire, was arrested. Klusmire was charged with the felony of endangering sea traffic and the lives of passengers, and misdemeanor counts of violating port authority orders and sailing without a permit.
On Monday, Klusmire's passengers started an open-ended fast in front of the American embassy in Athens to demand that the U.S. government pressure Greece to free their captain and allow their boat to sail. Klusmire was released from detention Tuesday and is scheduled to face trial at a later date.
In a similar scenario, the Canadian-flagged Boat, the Tahrir, tried to leave a port in Crete Monday without permission. The Greek coast guard also stopped this ship and arrested three of its delegates. Two Canadians were released Tuesday. The boat has passengers from Canada, Australia, Belgium, Denmark and Turkey.
The Greek government offered on Sunday to send the flotilla's humanitarian aid to Gaza with Greek diplomats under the supervision of the United Nations. Israel agreed to the offer, as did Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Flotilla organizers released a statement Tuesday saying they have not been contacted about the proposition, which in any case "is insufficient as it shows collusion with Israel's blockade as well as a complete disregard for Palestinian human rights, reducing the issue of Gaza and Palestine as a whole to one of humanitarian aid."
Organizers have acknowledged that their mission is not about providing aid to Palestinians in Gaza. Co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and flotilla organizer Huwaida Arraf said in a recent interview that the flotilla "is not about aid, this is about Palestinian human rights, this is about liberation, and there are no established channels for liberation except ending Israel's occupation and illegal policies."
Of the approximately 10 ships that have been blocked from leaving Greece, only a French boat managed to slip passed Greek authorities on Tuesday and sail toward Gaza.
In addition to the sea flotilla, approximately 700 pro-Palestinian activists, mostly Europeans, have decided to stage an "aerial flotilla," flying into Ben Gurion International Airport and declaring their destination is Palestine. The "Welcome to Palestine" fly-in is backed by 40 Palestinian NGOs and is scheduled to take place July 8-16.
Israeli Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Tuesday that the police have prepared for various scenarios and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Ahronovitch stated emphatically that "Israel won't allow... hooligans to infiltrate by air."